The first king of Israel, Saul the son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin, frequently disobeyed God, refusing to follow His direction (1 Sam. 13:8–15; 15:1–23). Saul’s successor, David the son of Jesse from the tribe of Judah, did not have the same problem. Usually, David was careful to seek and to obey the will of the Lord. This is particularly clear in today’s passage.
David knew he was to be king over Israel upon the death of Saul (16:1–13). Yet, David did not move immediately to install himself on Israel’s throne as soon as Saul died. As we see in 2 Samuel 2:1–4a, he first inquired of the Lord. Although the text does not mention it explicitly, David probably made this consultation with the help of Abiathar the priest and the Urim and the Thummim (1 Sam. 23:1–14; 30:7–8). In any case, God told David to go up to Hebron, in the territory of Judah, to be anointed as the new king. Located nineteen miles southwest of Jerusalem, Hebron had much significance for the Israelites. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah were all buried there (Gen. 23:19; 25:9–10; 35:27–28; 49:28–33; 50:1–14). Moreover, God had promised Abraham that kings would come from his family (17:6). David’s anointing as king over Judah at Hebron, the burial site of the patriarchs, tangibly fulfilled the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
David’s first act as king of Judah was to appeal to the northern city of Jabesh-gilead to receive him as ruler (2 Sam. 2:4b–7). He acted shrewdly in this, for he understood that some would still be loyal to Saul and would seek a king from his descendants. We do not know how the citizens of Jabesh-gilead responded to David, but we do know that some in the house of Saul resisted the ascent of David to the throne. Abner, the general of Saul’s army and Saul’s cousin, made Saul’s son Ish-bosheth king over the northern tribes of Israel (1 Sam. 14:50; 2 Sam. 2:8–11). There was no excuse for Abner’s actions, for he knew it was God’s will for David to be king (2 Sam. 3:6–11). As a result of Abner’s installation of Ish-bosheth, a bloody war broke out between the house of David and the house of Saul. A fierce battle left twelve men on both sides dead. One of David’s fighting men, Asahel, pursued Abner, only to be killed gruesomely by Abner with his spear (2:12–23). Abner eventually persuaded David’s general Joab to stop pursuing him and Saul’s army, but the damage had been done, with 360 of Abner’s fighters having been killed (vv. 24–32). Abner’s refusal to obey the will of God led to much death and destruction.